Making sense of the Family Budget – Part 1

family budget

Alright, so, the first thing I want to do in order to work out how to get the Lifeboat prepped look at is my expenditure.  It’s incredibly important to go over the family budget regularly and check what you are actually spending your money on.  For one thing, its incredibly easy to ignore or dismiss small spends as being insignificant.  It’s kind of like trying to diet, but telling yourself that just the one chocolate digestive wont make a difference, and then being confused why you aren’t loosing weight. 

Chances are, if you went back and checked, you’d had ‘just the one’ more times than you realise and are actually polishing off entire packets of biscuits over a relatively short period of time, without really clocking what you are eating.  Same goes for money.  If we don’t keep a handle on those ‘It’s just a couple of quid’ spends, we can find that we are shelling out a hefty sum over the course of the month and not even noticing.

Another reason why checking on your spends regularly is important if that it reminds you to shop around for things and not chug along on autopilot.  It you are checking your bank statements and receipts on a regular basis, you will know off the top of your head what each of your regular expenses comes to, will remember when things need to be renewed and will be able to shop around for the best deals to keep costs as low as possible.

Finally, I find keeping a track on the family budget makes me far more fussy about what I buy, as I am aware I will have to answer to myself at some point!  We’ve all sat, looking at that thing you are never going to use but liked the look of in the shop (there are Spirilizers, still in the box, in kitchen cupboards up and down the Country which are silently proving my point), or the bag full of random household tat that you picked up from B&M when you just popped in for some bin bags.  A regular audit of the bank account is a good way to keep that little voice in your head keeping you on track and asking ‘Do you really need that?’

So, I grab a calculator, a note pad, pen and my laptop (or paper statements if you get them) on a regular basis to make sure I am on top of things.

Groceries.

Weekly food shops are the norm for us and I only occasionally have to nip out for top up shops. I order my food shopping online and have it delivered as I am not reliably able to push a trolley around a supermarket but, aside from the logistics of going to the shop in person, I find online shopping makes budgeting and meal planning a lot easier. I use Tesco, for the most part, but I have also been known to use Asda, Iceland and Sainsburys at various times. Lidl and Aldi are both probably cheaper but, until they are willing to deliver it to the door, I’ll just have to live with the slightly higher prices.

One of the draws for me is that I can choose what meals I am going to cook for the week, plan out my ingredients and keep track of prices as I add things to the trolley. I can also compare similar items easily, which I struggle to do in store, where I cant always find things and there are other people trying to do their own shopping, who are either in my way or think I am in theirs (they are wrong, they are totally in my way). On average, I spend $85-90 per week for the four of us. That includes dog treats, cleaning products, nappies and loo roll, as well as the actual grocery part of the shopping. I have made efforts to trim this down but, in all honesty, I don’t think that this amount is going to be something I can reduce much more without a massive rethink on how/what we actually eat. I am not against this, but I am not a cook so I’ll need to think about this more carefully. Food is one of the big spends in any family budget, so I’d like to take better care of it if I can.

Utilities.

We have duel fuel, so I pay for gas and electric from the same supplier and we get discounts for getting both, as well as a discount for paying a fixed direct debit and another for not getting paper bills. I have recently switched suppliers, from Eon to EDF, as my fixed tariff had recently come to an end. We had planned to stick with Eon – we’ve been with them for a few years with no problems – but the cost went up sharply in the two months after my fix ended so I did a quick comparison and EDF worked out the cheapest of the big names. I have to confess some cowardice when it comes to small energy firms I have never heard of, so I do tend to miss out on some cheaper deals due to not being willing to take a risk.

I took the chance to check we were on the best deal we could be for the water rates, and the Mr. called and negotiated a cheaper rate for the broadband and TV package for the next 12 months. All in all, once I add in Council Tax, we spend around $420 on our household utilities/services.

Hobbies and recreation.

No family budget would be complete without the extras and non essentials department (not that the TV package is an essential but it seemed to fit more with utilities). First up, we have my mobile phone contract. I have no interest whatsoever in gadgets, which helps as I don’t feel any need to upgrade to the latest handset once my contracts are up, so I use phones until they break. Sometimes longer.

My current Samsung is two different colours as I accidentally shut it in a car door and smashed the screen, and the repair shop in town only had a red cover available, so I have a two tone black and red phone. But it makes and receives calls and I can listen to my Audible app on it – that really is the extent of what I need or use my phone for. Once the initial contract was over, I got onto the cheapest monthly tariff I could find, which worked out at $12 per month. This gives me vastly more minutes and texts than I ever need, so I could possibly get it cheaper if I went fully pay as you go and just topped up credit, so I may have to look into this.

My bank statements showed I was also pay around $40 per month for my eldest to take part in his hobbies. He has swimming lessons once a week, which costs me $28 per month, and Scouts costs $30 per quarter, so a tenner a month. I am not looking to cut this budget as the costs are fixed and I feel we get great value from those spends as kiddo is learning important skills, making great friends and having a blast twice a week. Sometimes, you really do get what you pay for.

One area I have to admit we were over doing it is subscriptions services. I had: an Audible subscription for $7.99 a month for 1 audiobook download each month; a $7.99 Amazon Prime subscription for access to Amazon Prime television and films, as well as unlimited next day delivery on Amazon orders; a $12 Netflix subscription for the full package which can be watched on a number of TVs at the same time and a $9.99 per month Spotify Premium membership. I had signed up to all of these services at different times and hadn’t realised that they had gradually added up to almost $40 per month on ‘things to watch and listen to’.

After setting aside a week to track what I actually used, in the end, I cancelled my Audible and Spotify subscriptions. I have built a large library of audiobooks and tend to listen on rotation to things I like, so don’t feel I need to be adding a new book each month. I also took the equivalent of 3 months Spotify Premium costs and bought a Bluetooth MP3 player, which I have loaded with music I already owned. These two changes have meant I will save around $185 in the next year, once the cost of the MP3 player is taken into account. We have kept Prime for the time being, although I am currently reviewing how much we actually use it, to see if that could go too. Netflix is staying as we watch it daily and each member of the family gets a good amount of use out of it.

Childcare.

Another big cost for me is childcare. I work full time, so the little dude is in nursery 5 days a week. He has a blast and the girls who work there love him to bits, but it isn’t cheap (in fairness, I feel as though childcare is really one of those things you don’t want to be scrimping on – your paying someone to look after your baby, you want it to be spot on). Both the Mr. and I claim the maximum Child Care Vouchers that we can through our employers, which comes to $243 each, but we still top those up by between $300 and $500 per month, depending on where holidays fall. There, really isn’t any way to cut this cost, without one of us cutting our working hours, for the next couple of years until (if the scheme is still running then) he becomes eligible for the free hours that 3 and 4 year olds are able to receive. Until then, my childcare bill is the biggest single expense in the family budget.

All in all, once I add in things like home and pet insurance, tv licence, a small clothing budget and fuel for the car, my monthly outgoings are around $1400. Not too extravagant for a family budget, but with a few extras so we never feel as though I am scrimping. My monthly income is around $2000 so I usually tuck $100 to one side for stuff like takeaways here and there or buying the boys the odd treat, like a comic book for the eldest. The remaining $500 is usually tucked away in savings or invested. I vary this depending on whether or not I am saving for something specific like a holiday or re-doing the bathroom.

So, that’s my current family budget, as it stands. Mr. has his own budget and it isn’t my place to discuss his money on the interwebs, so I will just use my income and expenditure for the purposes of this blog.

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